While Saunders Farm might be best known for Fright Fest (happening September 23 to October 31, it celebrates 25 years this fall) the Saunders clan has built their business around diversification. They started doing the value-added thing in Munster before it was necessary. “This spring is a perfect example,” says Mark Saunders, alluding to the region’s record rainfall. “Without alternative revenue streams, a spring like this could knock a farmer out. Mother Nature means no certainty.”
Key to their diversification success is the setting: the 150-year-old farm sits on a landscaped hillside; facilities include a restored log building complete with multiple stone fireplaces and a renovated pavilion big enough to host up to 280. Whole Foods and the Ottawa Senators have already taken advantage of the bucolic grounds to host private gatherings.
When Mark’s entrepreneurial parents, Bill and Ann, decided to buy a farm in 1976, they were teachers looking to start a new life with their young family. They were also clever and ambitious, so the 100-acre farm they chose soon became a popular destination as one of the area’s first pick-your-own strawberry spots. A tree nursery came next, and then, in 1992, they created The Haunting Season. With this addition, Saunders Farm hit the agritourism jackpot as they effectively extended Halloween from a one-night-only event to a whole ghostly season. This fall, watch for their special Canada 150 corn maze and the newest haunt, inspired by the Salem Witch Trials, called The Coven.
As much as the Saunders clan are still hooked on Halloween, they continue to redefine farming. Farm Camp introduces kids to rural life, while couples looking for a countryside wedding are wowed by its rustic charm (and full onsite catering capabilities). And three years ago, Saunders began hosting community dinners that bring farmers and foodies together over locally sourced meals.
The Saunderses are true agricultural pioneers always looking for inspiration. They can’t help it, says Mark. “It’s in our blood and who we are.”